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Effects of the developments in the market for e-bikes on risks, conflicts and accidents on the bicycle infrastructure

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Complete with results
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Transport policies
Societal/Economic issues
Transport sectors
Passenger transport,
Active mobility


Background & Policy context

Worldwide Boom of Electrically Driven Bicycles

Within one decade, the number of electrically driven bicycles in China increased from around 210,000 units (1999) to about 120 million (2009). Due to the locally lacking emission control, many Chinese cities promote E-bicycles. On the other side, there are an increasing number of cities banning the E-bicycles for security reasons. The rate of people being killed by E-bicycles is about twice as high compared to normal bicycles. The safety issue hinders the E-bicycle market in China from growing further. As they generate only little noise, E-cyclists are in danger themselves in mixed traffic and they also endanger pedestrians and other cyclists.

Apart from China and Japan, Europe is the third largest market for E-bicycles. Here, the so-called Pedelecs dominate the market, whose E-drive only offers a pedalling support. The number of sold E-bicycles in Germany and the Netherlands rose from approx. 90,000 (2006) to approx. 275,000 (2009). The relatively forceful acceleration and high permanent speeds combined with restricted space and untrained drivers can lead to conflicts and accidents. 


Increased Accident Risk for E-Bicycles

Some features of E-bicycles present an increased accident risk. Totally unexpected driving attitudes may occur when driving through a bend with a front drive.  It can also be presumed that the high acceleration and the thus achieved high speeds - in particular on narrow bicycle paths - may lead to conflicts and accidents.

As the E-bicycles are not recorded separately by the police in the accident recording sheet, it is not possible to establish investigations into accidents. The MERKUR project’s aim is to establish nevertheless a secure statement on the type and extent of the possible higher risks and their causes by using a wide variety of methods and sources.


The types of methods include theoretical analyses and discussions with experts via interviews with E-cyclists to conflict analyses. The following has been established by having identified user requirements and causes of risks:

  • Recommendation for a conflict-reducing adaptation of the ways that bicycle infrastructures are designed and the creation of relevant guidelines.
  • Developing materials for the awareness of E-bicycle-specific risks.
  • Producing a proposal for target group-specific E-bicycle training courses.

The Advantage of Road Safety in Austria

E-vehicles that are legally considered as bicycles are a relatively new phenomenon, enjoying an increasingly larger market acceptance. Introducing new systems with inexperienced users and road users creates increased risks. This is especially applicable when the infrastructure (e.g. bicycle paths) has not been prepared accordingly. The Austrian road safety benefits from a proactive awareness and also from having revised the guidelines.


Other Programme
Austrian Road Safety Fund
Funding Source
Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology BMVIT


The analytical part of the MERKUR project covered the following legal, technical and user related issues:

  • 1. Legal aspects. There is no legal concept for the vehicle class of fast pedelecs (cycles with pedal assistance reaching up to 45 km/h) in Austria. But they are not allowed to be operated on public roads in Austria. No method for the police exists to check legal compliance of the engine performance, including manipulations, of pedelecs or to order fast pedelecs to be inspected in testing laboratories (unless they are involved in an accident).
  • 2. Market. On the basis of the latest data, a logistic model was created to forecast the future market for pedelecs. The model predicts that the share of pedelecs in the bicycle market will be just over 20% by 2020. This figure corresponds to 100,000 sold pedelecs per year.
  • 3. Pedelec users. The age groups from 40 to 60 years and over 60 years are the most frequent pedelec users. The hypothesis that pedelec bikers are mainly inexperienced cyclists must be rejected based on the survey conducted in the framework of the project. The project team takes the view that, the construction of supralocal cycling facilities in rural areas should be further promoted.
  • Several of the pedelec users surveyed report conflicts which arise because other traffic participants underestimate the speed and the acceleration of e-bicycles. Retailers report that the subject of safety plays a role in the consultations for the majority of their customers.
  • 4. Safety. The arrangement of the motor and battery components can lead to a shift of the centre of gravity in the longitudinal direction and thus to a changed ratio of the transmissible frictional forces. An analysis of available product tests of pedelecs shows that there are safety-relevant quality defects of some available models.
  • 5. Speed. The results of measurements with radar gun show that, when compared to conventional bikes, a slight, but not statistically significant trend towards higher speed can be observed for electric bicycles. In addition to the measurements with radar gun, data of comparative measurement runs have confirmed these findings.
  • 6. Conflict monitoring. During test runs with helmet camera, slightly more conflicts involving pedelecs were observed compared to conventional bicycles. However, the difference was not statistically significant.
  • 7. Media analysis. The analysis of the investigated media reports show that mostly accidents with older persons are reported: almost every second report concerns injured senior citizens over 65 years. The average age of e-bikers involved in accidents is around 61 years. In contrast, the average age of all injured cyclists in Austria in the period 2002-2012 was 42.

The final report of the MERKUR project (German only) is available in the download section or on the website of the Technical University of Vienna:


Policy implications

Cycling Infrastructure.

  • An analysis of the existing traffic infrastructure along selected segments shows shortcomings which are largely due to an inadequate implementation of the recommendations of the Austrian cycling infrastructure directive. Consequently the implementation of the “RVS Cycling” should be forced.

Further risk mitigation measures.

  • Based on the results of the MERKUR project, increased awareness raising measures through safety-relevant information material are advisable. The project team developed different aspects that should be included in materials for different target groups, i.e. retailers, rentals and users of pedelecs. The consortium suggests including safety instructions regarding e-bicycles in future general bicycle campaigns. Furthermore, other traffic participants, especially motor vehicle users, should be made aware of the special features of e-bikes (i.e. speed and acceleration).
  • The results of the MERKUR project lead to a strong recommendation for specific training and test rides for persons who use an e-bike for the first time and for a theoretical and practical cycling training for users who are inexperienced in riding a bike at all. The final report of the MERKUR project describes the recommended design, content and exercises for such a training. The project team recommends defining specific quality standards for pedelec specific trainings, as well as providing funds for such programmes.

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